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To Speak or Not to Speak: When You Suspect Your Child's Friend May Have a Disability

I have spent years in doctor’s and therapist’s appointments. That is what being the mother of a child with a disability can be like.

From all the time I have spent in these waiting rooms seeing kids with various disabilities and talking with their parents to pass the time, I can often pick out sensory issues, physical issues, and other things a child is experiencing.

Because I have lived with someone with autism for most of my life (yes, in our family autism is likely genetic), I can pick a person with autism out of a room of people easily. That is not to say I can identify every single person, but can I usually spot the signs if they are there.

But what if the person or the parent doesn’t know yet that they or their child has a disability?

About a year ago in church, there was a young family with their first child who was about 18 months old. Their child was a toe walker. So much so, that he could have shown up every ballet dancer in the business with his ability to walk on the very tips of his toes. Although I’m sure they understood this was different, what they may not have understood is that this can be a sign of something more.

Many pediatricians take a “wait and see” approach. I was telling medical professionals for years that something was different about my son. They kept blowing me off. I’m sure they were thinking, “She’s a first time mom, she’s just over protective and doesn’t really know what to look for. He’s fine.” What they didn’t understand was that I’m the oldest of 11 children in my family. Since I left home, I had been a Nanny and a Preschool teacher and now had kids of my own. I have literally worked with and helped raise kids my entire life. It wasn’t hard for me to spot that things were off with my son.

This couple with their pride and joy of a boy who was a toe walker… do I say anything? Do I put a chink in the castle in the sky they are building about their little boy? If so, how do I do that? I tend to not get in the middle of other people’s business. I figure I have enough drama in my own family, I don’t need anyone else’s. My thought process is if they want me to know something, they’ll tell me. I feel bad for the doctors who do have to break the news to parents that their child has a disability. No one is prepared for that news.

In this case, and so many others, I know that early intervention can not only help, but make a huge difference in the outcome of that person’s development. Is it sensory issues that are causing this child to toe walk? Is it muscular and ligament related? (This is what it looked like to me). Early intervention with physical therapy or occupational therapy can help with sensory issues. Therapy can make it so the ligaments are getting stretched and so that surgery isn’t needed, or that it could wait until the child is older.

We had one therapist for our son who was particularly gifted at asking about a child while standing in line at the grocery store and mentioning that perhaps they should be in physical or occupational therapy. She could get away with telling almost anyone this. Another therapist in the same office said, “If I do that, it completely blows up in my face!”As a parent, with no professional training, but with lots of practical experience in a variety of disabilities, I am standing here constantly wondering, “Should I say anything?” There is someone in my life right now that I’m fairly confident their daughter has autism. I waffle so much on whether to say anything. I really think it could really help them and others understand the difficulties this young girl may be going through.

A Question For You

As a parent, would you want another parent to pull you aside and mention out of concern for you and your child that they might consider bringing up x, y, or z at their next pediatric appointment? Or would you rather I keep my nose out of your business as I’m not a medical professional? Take a minute, tell me in the comments, would you want me or anyone else for that matter, to tell you your child might have a disability? Or would you rather find out on your own in your own time?

A version of this story originally appeared on An Ordinary Mom.

Getty image by nadia_bormotova

Originally published: August 20, 2018
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